REVIEW: The Young Blood by Erin Satie
Dear Ms. Satie:
Earlier this year, I read the first book in your No Better Angels series, The Secret Heart. I enjoyed it and gave it a B. I haven’t gotten around to picking up books two and three in the series yet, but because I’m a wild and crazy girl (who reads series out of order!), when I saw that The Young Blood was being released soon, I requested it. My interest was especially piqued by the blurb that made it clear that the heroine is married, and not to the hero, at least when the book starts.
Alfred Lamb, Earl of Kingston – Alfie to his friends, who are few and far between – is attending a costume ball when he encounters Sabine Banchory, who like him has not bothered to dress up. He meets her just as she observes her husband on his way to a tryst, and Alfie tries briefly to convince Sabine to tryst with him, but she rebuffs him, so he finds other entertainment for the night. The next morning at breakfast, Alfie encounters the husband, Godfrey Banchory, and finds him crude and unworthy of his beautiful and dignified wife. When Banchory mentions that they’re off to Bath, Alfie manipulates him by offering him an introduction to friends there, with the idea that Alfie himself will show up and have another try at Sabine.
Thus Sabine and Alfie meet again in Bath, at the Finlay-Coates’ summer party, just as Alfie had planned. The party involves a sort of team challenge in which the partygoers are split up into groups and given a series of tasks, with a prize for the team that gets the most points at the end. This takes up a good 15% of the book, which seems like a lot, but the tasks themselves were surprisingly involving and provided a good vehicle for illustrating Alfie’s and Sabine’s personalities and approaches to life. Alfie later lives down to his poor reputation by seducing (and thus disgracing) a married woman.
Sabine and Alfie then meet for a third time at her uncle’s house, where Alfie has gone to look at some paintings he is interested in buying (Alfie is passionate about art). It is there that a shocking series of events occur that upend both Sabine’s and Alfie’s lives.
Sabine is the daughter of a duke, an older man who married Sabine’s much-younger mother, Iolanthe. He didn’t seem to care much that he was also taking on Iolanthe’s “companion” Beatrice, who was in fact her secret love. After Sabine’s father died, Sabine, Iolanthe and Beatrice lived in quiet and isolated contentment for several years, but when Iolanthe died, Sabine’s uncle, the next Duke of Harbind, sold their cottage, named himself Sabine’s guardian and cut off Sabine’s ties with the “degenerate” Beatrice. He then married her off to Godfrey, satisfied that he was doing “the right thing.” (Sabine’s uncle is a minor but interesting character, in that yes, he’s sort of a villain, but far from the mustache-twirling kind; he thinks he’s doing the right thing. He just happens to be very, very wrong.)
As a result of the trauma she’s endured (losing both her parents and her beloved “aunt” Beatrice), and her ongoing unhappy marriage to Godfrey, Sabine is somewhat bitter and uptight (the latter may just be an intrinsic quality). She doesn’t really understand human frailty that well, and so while she’s intrigued by and drawn to Alfie, she’s repelled by him as well – his selfishness and heedlessness are anathema to her.
Alfie has reasons for being a rake and a wastrel that don’t really read as sufficient on paper: his first love was taken away from him and later thought dead, and his mother and sister died in a house fire. Terrible losses, but not really good reasons to take up a dissolute life. Romance heroes don’t need much of reason for debauchery, of course, and often that annoys me, but with Alfie it didn’t so much. Maybe because he’s a well-drawn character in so many ways; maybe because he manages to feel self-loathing for his lifestyle without ever coming off as annoyingly tortured or faux-angsty. (To be fair, also, it may be that we get a better idea of why Alfie is the way he is in books 2 and 3 of the series, which again, I didn’t read. My recollection of him from book 1 was that he was a real asshole.)
A series of circumstances force Alfie and Sabine to go on the run, sort of, which makes The Young Blood a road trip romance, a subgenre I do have a weakness for. The ingenuity of a road trip romance, especially in historicals, is that it allows unmarried characters to be thrown together in close proximity without it feeling super-forced simply for the purposes of sexy times (which occur rather late in this book, anyway). In a good book, and this is a good book, it can force adversarial characters to work together and perhaps see each other in a different light.
The Young Blood reminded me a bit of some of my favorite romances from yesteryear, specifically Black Silk by Judy Cuevas. Both books feature a rake hero and a repressed heroine, but that description fits approximately one million romances. It’s hard to put my finger on what makes this book special (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s so much easier for me to articulate what I don’t like about a book than what I do). Strong writing, excellent characterization and a plot that actually surprised me all contributed to making this a very good book. But there’s that something more – that feeling of freshness, and of the characters coming alive – that made this an A read. I will have to go back and try books two and three of the series as soon as possible.